The Morning After Nothing

Image: Cover, “Strange Weather” Becky Hagenston Press 53

Most mornings… in fact, most mornings as long as I can remember, I wake up happy. It’s a trait I would not trade. I am a cheerful morning person with a positive outlook. However, I must admit that some mornings are more of a poutlook. Soo gohne daut; so goes it.

Pouty mornings I sometimes call, “The Morning After Nothing.” A kind of bitter hollowness, apropos of nothing, with nothing left to lose, and nothing is more true than that you still have to get up and make the bed and get going. There is no cancel button for this illness.

“Cancel” starts with a C. What else starts with C are the things that conquer the dog-breath stench of waking up on a Morning After Nothing: coffee, chickadees, and creativity. My go-to fixes, respectively: Medium C, Little Cs, and Big C.

Coffee and the antics of our neighbour chickadee pals are self-explanatory cheer-bringers. Creativity is the third great remedy because it takes you away from the grumbly place and puts you far on the other side of Nothing. This last C takes you straight to Elsewhere: rapping at a keyboard, pushing wood through a saw, trying to learn a new move on the windsurfer. Painting something for a friend or for one of our pog grandkids. (That’s my wife Janice’s usual way out.)

“Dee-dee-dee!”

Today, I found the coffee less than stimulating and the chickadees were their usual acrobatic and fearless 15-gram selves but I still had the look of the guy at the back of the longest line at the grocery store… the guy with the dripping container of ice cream.

But, C-ing is believing, as the saying goes, so I moved on to Creativity: “C’mon Creativity, papa needs a new toque!” I wound up considering a difficult short story I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s an outside-your-comfort-zone story, with nary a Mennonite in sight. The story is dark and harsh, and carries a gut-shot of implicit violence. Well, if you’re gonna write about toxic masculinity, I guess you gotta break a couple of… Uhh, scratch that—sounds too glib, and not a little.

Cal Rhinehart. Big and mean. Damaged goods and all about the booze and the dope. Everyone else’s fault but his. Maybe his dad beat the shit out of him or maybe one fight too many or maybe he just had bad chemicals in his head; got dealt a rotten hand, Fiona thought, sad and furious and terrified all at once. Maybe understanding too well. Maybe even feeling a sort of mongrel kinship. But she shook that thought away. Positive thinking, Doctor Tracewski always says.

—Main Character, Fiona Hewel, in “Four Baths, Great View, Bank Owned Mountain Home”

This is the story that started up in my head after reading an incredible story by the super-pog Becky Hagenston, “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow.” I was determined to jump outside of my skin—that old, wrinkly bag of derma—and take on the many risks attendant for an older man who writes a story that contains difficult passages; violence both emotional and physical and violence against both men and women.

Violence is real. Violence towards women happens. Violence is at the heart of the topic I wanted to broach, and yet, how could I, “go there?”

Would it be best to just bail-out? Let someone else handle this topic? Did you just shout, “Hell yeah?” I understand, and yet, I have an indelible memory; something that happened to me, in real life, in the real world on the #1 Highway just west of the Bow Flats, at the feet of Big Sister, Middle Sister, and Little Sister.

“What in the world? Look at that!” Joe said, straightening his back and shifting his attention to the road ahead. A red SUV accelerated along the merge lane of an intersection. Behind the speeding car, a tattooed, bareback man ran in a dead sprint.

“Is he chasing them?” Fiona said.

Tall and broad shouldered, the man had an athletic build and long dirty blonde hair. The white drawstrings of his grey sweatpants fluttered and snapped behind him like kite tails as he ran after the vehicle. His bare feet pounded on the gravel strewn pavement.

The bizarre drama played on and Joe slowed the car as they closed on it. A white, flatdeck truck, “Rhinehart Well Drilling” in bold letters along the side, sat parked at a cockeyed angle near the intersection—driver door open, blinker on.

The running man slowed and hopped a few strides on one leg, then staggered to a lame halt. He bent at the waist to inspect his foot. The SUV sped away on the highway.

—”Four Baths, Great View, Bank Owned Mountain Home”

As you can see, I choose to go ahead with the story. The early iterations were the cause of some “Morning after Nothing” feels, but “vann aul, dann aul,” as is said in the Plaut: “if already, then already,” or “if you’re going to do it, go all the way!”

So I did.

Ugh. The result was more than one editor, I fear, not seeing the Red Badge of Courage in my choices, but instead feeling triggered and put upon. More than one editor who might have stroked me off a list or two. For good, or longer.

Still, this the way of it, is it not? If there’s no risk, then I will stay forever in the safe-feeling place—potentially a moribund state for my writing—where I just write happy, little stories about wise Mennonites. Where grey-bearded Opas nod knowingly and open their mouths to release a dazzling, atmospheric river of axiomatic truths and cornpone savviness. Savvy like, “vann aul, dann aul.”

But… many rewrites and tough critiques later, I feel as though the story has evolved and now comes closer to the way I want it. Consider: I am a male writer, someone who grew up in times and places where even the worst acts of wanton male violence were sometimes forgiven—forgiven (or given up) even by those who suffered the violence. Forgiven by those whose job is was to police this violence: pulpit, patrol car, politician. I lived this condition, directly and indirectly. Is that not a story worth considering? Is it not important to write from a point of view that—without absolution and without friendly framing—tells a human story in all of its unsettling truth?

I vote yes.

There’s a part near the end of “Midnight, Licorice, Shadow” where the author describes something being thrown into a dumpster, “with a thud,” and your heart sinks, and you feel a bit sick to your stomach. Without that passage the story is still wonderfully strong, but when you read it… when you read, “with a thud,” you are moved in a way that will last.

That! That result is the big prize, the one worth taking some risks to attain. It’s how a story can make a difference. It’s certainly one way to beat the Morning After Nothing blues!

Besides, as some wily Mennonite Oma must have said, to some future author on some far shore: “the best way to catch fish is to keep fishing!”

So I will.

Jus’ Noodlin’

Image: My grandparents and my uncle Ken in Steinbach, MB during the 40s; Mennonites hiding in plain sight.

As I idle down the back lanes of my brain’s daydream centre, procrastinating before my session on the rowing machine, I imagine what the logline might look like for a collection of my short stories. Note that I’m idling along the back lanes—where windmills and cobwebs exist in perfect harmony—on a brand-new, electric Ural sidecar motorcycle. Hey… if you’re gonna daydream, go carbon-friendly or go home!

Mitchell Toews’ collection of insightful short stories, “Pinching Zwieback – Prairie Stories,” reveals the confines of small-town life in a Mennonite community. Vivid characters demand to be heard and recognized. The book’s mixture of the iconoclastic and the nostalgic delivers reality through the little-seen lens of an outsider—but one with a deep insider pedigree. Toews’ heartfelt expression of lives lived captures the conflict and the contradictions that are unavoidable in these insular Jemeend*.

Pulling apart the clockwork of the axiomatic Mennonite profile, Toews probes for what is common to all and what is beautiful and what is problematic within faith, culture, domestic life, commerce, and interaction with the wide world beyond.

“Out of patience, I stood up and began angrily shouting down the ridiculous, muddled stereotypes coming from the lecturer in my ‘Introduction to Geography’ course. I was at the University of Victoria in 1974 and we were discussing Canadian Mennonites. At almost the same time a tall, blonde woman from the Interior rose to protest, and also another; a young Albertan from La Crete who was on the men’s J-V basketball team. All of us disavowed the reckless, almost comical blending of Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite tropes. At that moment, I saw myself and my ‘brethren’ in the way others must and furthermore, I saw the confusion within our own ranks.”

Mitchell Toews

__

*Or Gemeinde: Communities or congregations

Ageism in Literature. An Analysis Kit for Teachers and Librarians.

The title of this essay is the actual name of a research and analysis paper written by Anita F. Dodson and Judith H. Hauser. The paper was sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Education and the publication was released in 1981.

https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED211411

I discovered this document online when searching for resources about the improvements made in modern literature in respect of ageism, embedded bias, and systemic elder malignment. Like you, perhaps, I assumed that progress has been made in this area; that certain antiquated and demeaning stereotypes had been scrubbed out of literature by a watchful literary vanguard of editors, publishers, librarians, teachers, readers and right-minded people in general.

“We should all be concerned about the future because we will have to spend the rest of our lives there.”

I believed, like American industrialist Charles F. Kettering must have (quoted above), that age bias is the product of an illogical mind and that it would, especially in today’s atmosphere of rapid, broad communication and ultra-scrutiny be all but eradicated. While discrimination over race, religion, gender, or sexuality continues to plague society, open hate-speak and flagrant animosity have been essentially banned in world literature. The same should be true for ageism, yes?

Well… “Hey, BOOMER!” No.

Here are the some of the findings of the Dodson/Hauser paper. Their research included visits to, “public, college, and school libraries, as well as bookstores. Approximately eight hundred books from the kindergarten through adult levels were investigated.” The authors reason that what readers absorb through reading—particularly the young—will influence their opinions and beliefs. How true.

In summary, the authors concluded the following:

[…] “analysis of past and present literature shows that the aged have been stereotyped and portrayed negatively. By not assigning them a full range of human behaviours, emotions, and roles, authors have categorized them, resulting in ‘ageism’—discrimination against the elderly.

Literature conveys writers’ and society’s stereotypic and negative images when:

  1. Authors consistently use adjectives such as “old,” “poor,” “little,” “sad,” and “wise” to refer to the elderly.
  2. Older men are depicted with wrinkles, white hair, and canes, while older women are portrayed as fat or skinny, with their hair in “buns” and wearing aprons.
  3. Senility is considered to be synonomous with old age.
  4. The aged are pictured as sitting in rocking chairs or engaged in passive roles, such as storytelling, fishing, or housekeeping.
  5. Personality is characterized in two forms—crotchety or unfailingly pleasant.

1-5, above, are the faults present in a certain cross-section of American literature at the time the study was done forty years ago.

The authors identified important categories as a way to break down and better analyze a piece of literature in respect of its treatment of elders.

  • Significance. In Canada today, StatsCan estimates, “Almost one in five (18.5%) Canadians are now aged 65 and older, and the number of centenarians rose 1,100 year over year to 12,822 as of July 1, 2021.” https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/210929/dq210929d-eng.htm Simply put, are one in five contemporary literary characters age 65 or older? What systemic initiatives (funding, grants, contests, mandates, education) exist to promote the significance of elders in modern literature?
  • Ethnic and Racial Composition. The study contends that, in 1981,

“When older characters appear in literature, the vast majority are white. Ethnic and racial minorities tend to be stereotyped to an even greater degree, assuming roles that are even more typecast than whites. While some behaviors are not inaccurate, they are shown in exclusion to others. For example, Asian-Americans operate laundries or gift shops or participate in dragon festivals, while Blacks appear in servile roles.”

  • Character Role. To what degree are elders depicted as main characters?
  • Occupational Role. Are elders, “shown in a diversity of meaningful occupations and employment settings?” The study found that:

The majority of older characters are placed in indeterminate occupational roles or those that require only passive participation… When there is obvious employment, the positions require little mental acuity or are outside the experiences of the average student. Women’s roles are repetitive… generally engaged in housework or gardening.

  • Behavioral Characteristics. Elder characters found by the 1981 study usually created problems Today, are they depicted solving problems too? Are behavioural characteristics stereotypical? A somewhat recent example is Canada’s “Corner Gas” television show. The ensemble cast includes two prominent elder roles, a husband and wife. The show often elevates the female elder to a person of agency, responsibility, strong character and otherwise gives her a role equal to younger characters, although she seems to me too often petulant and vengeful and her role in the home and the community are based on typecast models. Her husband is a comical dumping ground of grouchy old man tropes, spun out relentlessly, episode after episode, giving authority for other writers to continue down the caricature trail, unabated; angry old white man… Difficult old lady.
  • Physical Traits. In 1981, “Older characters are rarely given fully developed physical descriptions. Instead, they are described by three adjectives–“old,” “little,” and “ancient.” “Old” is used approximately seventy-five percent of the time. No other generation is completely described by the use of one word.”
  • Personality Traits. Do older characters express, “a full range of emotions with the opportunity for continued growth?”

~ ~ ~

The sample size is small. It’s a review of predominantly American literature and may not be representative of the Canadian reality—then or now—particularly in respect of Indigenous characters, for which significant differences exist between American and Canadian cohorts. (Example: Métis peoples are seldom represented in American culture or literature.)

Despite these shortfalls and potential inaccuracies, when I read the findings and conclusions, I can’t help but see a description of many parts of modern day Canadian literary content. Few elder characters are drawn in the same way as their younger counterparts and many suffer from the same endemic flaws as those highlighted in 1981.

What, if anything, has changed? Is this unalterable? Will literary and genre fiction remain forever bound by and within these “old” tropes and lazy caricatures?

A few nights ago, the doddering, heavily made-up character portrayed by “Saturday Night Live’s” Mikey Day, fell headlong and without reserve into almost every insulting, belittling device cited by Dodson & Hauser. When in doubt, slander the elderly and grab a cheap laugh! This recent example from one of the big-audience icons of Western pop culture suggests that elder discrimination is still openly permitted. The zeitgeist has spoken.

~ ~ ~

On the plus side, and I’m sure there are many, I was impressed with Ralph Benmergui, author of

I THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD: A SPIRITUAL MEMOIR

during his CBC radio interview from Winnipeg yesterday. Author-broadcaster-spiritualist (and likely much more), Mr. Benmergui is, like me, a 1955 product and I thought his take on elder invisibility was a direct hit. BOOM! He later added a positive tone to his comments, pointing out many of the things that have changed and are changing concerning the role of seniors in Canadian society. I’m sure his book will contribute to the dialogue.

His is another book for me to buy and it may find a place on the shelf right next to Sharon Butala, and her wonderful book of essays,

THIS STRANGE VISIBLE AIR: ESSAYS ON AGING AND THE WRITING LIFE

~ ~ ~

Please accept my apologies for being on a bit of a birthday-induced rant about all of this, but as Kettering pointed out, it is in our best interests—and that of generations to come—to grapple with issues of ageism now and with permanence.

Jessica Lake IMPRESSIONISM

I’m working a lot lately on creating stories that follow my understanding of an “impressionistic writing style.”

Impressionism as manifest in Scene; Character; Action; Sensation; and Style.

This is, you see, part of the Jessica Lake MFA I’m enrolled in. The internet and my writing group, the reading I do, my readers and editors are the instructors. I am definitely the coolest guy in my MFA. In fact, I’m the only guy in my MFA, but then, I always avoid giving statistics too much credence.

The overriding rules go a little like a Lightnin’ Hopkins song — there’s some improvisation involved as you go along:

  1. Writen in the present, without reflection or authorial comment
  2. No narrative intrusions of any kind — the story simply unfolds in the reader’s mind
  3. Choice of words is left to “Mot juste” or a sense of using just the “right” word that contributes to the totality of the piece without undue attention to the beauty of the prose.

Scene — a reportorial flow, objective, use of understatement and simple words, clear imagery, repetition and reiteration of key words and phrases, strong description of action, use of landscape to echo emotion… the last bit suggested by author and writing instructor Lauren Carter of Winnipeg.

Character — describe traits or activities, but not physical attributes

Action — up close and participatory with reader as onlooker, cinematic: rapid (fluttering) or slow motion and may utilize a bird’s-eye view from above that is clipped and declarative

Sensation — actions are felt by the reader, be concrete and crude, be simple and realistic, work the senses

Style — author should express their individuality as a writer (untarnished), focus always on the subject and what the subject experiences, use the iceberg technique to hide the worst and only show the surface — the tip — of what is wrong, and ala Hemingway and Manitoba memoirist Donna Besel, write slow and clear about the most terrible and the most hurtful.

Note: A good deal of this came from a doctoral thesis (from a few decades ago) I found on the web and now cannot relocate to cite. Acch. Quite a bit is of my own invention so… maybe the no citation is okay here. If you recognize it, lemme know!

“What’s it about?”

I’ve assembled a collection of short stories to present to small presses in Canada. My hope is that I can attract a skilled, smart, simpatico partner to work with and publish the collection. I have several unpublished works and just over 90 published stories from which to choose.

I curated the stories into a themed collection and they are mostly those tales I have written that I consider “MennoGrit.” I define this in a sloppy way — like when you have to saw a board with your left hand:

Stories about real life. Ordinary people who encounter difficult situations and respond in a manner incommensurate with their simple station in life. Allegedly simple.

“So, what’s your book about?” is the question that everyone from agent to publisher to the person in the line at the pharmacy, pimple cream in hand, might ask.

Good question. To better understand this I pulled up the manuscript and made a list of the themes or messages that are at the core of each story. I was surprised by what I found. Here is that Thematic Table of Contents:

Loyalty…toxic male behaviour

Women’s rights in a patriarchy

Growing up…responsibility…saying no

Friendship and its obligations

Pacifism…courage

Bullying…courage

Regret

Womanhood…courage

Right and wrong…courage

Racism…insularism

Forgiveness…alcoholism

Nativism…equality

Class struggle

Alcoholism…class struggle

Pacifism

Toxic religion…abuse of authority

Deceit…class struggle

Mental health

Faith…life and death

Cruelty…guilt

Empathy

Abuse of authority

Life and death

Written as they are in the mind of my times, I can focus ice cold on these themes. They come from the lives that exist in all places, including those I know best. There is no “trending” in these familiars, where I am the son — both homegrown and prodigal — only observations scooped up and saved in a coffee can, resting placid and true on the high shelf where they have cured; some softening, some hardening.

The working title of the book is “Pinching Zwieback — Prairie Stories.”

Detailed C-V

MITCHELL TOEWS: A big list…

 ONLINE ADDRESSES

Mitchellaneous.com
@Mitchell_Toews
Author pages on Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn

 CURRICULUM-VITAE

Updated 01.20.22

EDUCATION

University of Victoria (1974-75)
University of Winnipeg (1975-77)
Masters Certificate in Marketing Communication Management, York University (2001)
“So You Want To Write Indigenous Characters…” Manitoba Writers’ Guild (2019)

 ASSOCATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS

Member — Manitoba Writers’ Guild
Past Associate Member — Victoria Writers’ Society
Professional Artist — Manitoba Arts Council
New/Early Career Artist — Canada Council for the Arts
Past Member — Winnipeg Public Library’s Prose Writing Circle, led by Winnipeg Public Library Writer in Residence Carolyn Gray (2019-2020)
Past Member — The Sunday Writers Group, led by Donna Besel (Lac du Bonnet, MB)
Member — WriteRamble, led by Lauren Carter, Winnipeg Public Library Writer in Residence, 2020-2021
Member — Write Clicks, a Winnipeg River/Winnipeg City alliance of writers, a critique circle formed in 2021
Member — Winnipeg River Arts Council

 PUBLISHED WORKS

2016:
16 short stories, 15 online, 2 paid print, 9 Canada, 6 UK, 1 US

2017: 20 short stories, all online, 4 Ca, 1 India, 7 UK, 8 US

2018: 14 short stories, 1 interview, 1 podcast, 1 paid print, 3 unpaid print, 6 Ca, 4 UK, 1 Ireland, 5 US

“I am Otter” — short story, CommuterLit (Ca)

“Fall From Grace”, short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“Of a Forest Silent” — short story, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish)

“City Lights” — short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“The Bottom of the Sky” — short story, Fiction on the Web (UK)

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” — short story, riverbabble (US)

“Nothing to Lose” — short story, riverbabble (US)

“Shade Tree Haven” — short story, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US)

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, Blank Spaces (Ca), paid print

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, Just Words, Volume 2 Anthology (Ca), print

“Away Game” — short story, Pulp Literature (Ca), paid print

“The Doeling” — short story, Cabinet of Heed (Ireland)

“Groota Pieter” — short story, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “The Immigrants” Anthology (US), print

“Five Questions for Mitchell Toews” — interview, Mennotoba (Ca)

“The Narrowing” — short story, Scarlet Leaf Review (Ca)

“Wide Winter River” — podcast, Not Ready for Prime Time (US)

2019: 14 short stories, 1 interview, 1 CNF essay, 1 paid online, 1 paid print, 2 unpaid print, 3 Ca, 2 UK, 1 Australia, 3 Iran, 8 US

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine” — short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“The Toboggan Run” — short story, The MOON magazine (US)

“Peacemongers” — short story, The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” Anthology The Best Short Stories from the MOON (US), Volume 1, print

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac” — short story, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93

“Din and the Wash Bear” — short story, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 95

“Died Rich” — short story, Fabula Argentea (US), Issue #27, paid

“I am Otter” — short story, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran)

“Away Game” — short story, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran)

 “4Q Interview with Author Mitchell Toews” — interview and excerpt from WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar”, South Branch Scribbler (Ca)

“Concealment” — short story, Me First Magazine (US)

“Groota Pieter” — short story, Pact Press (Australia), “We Refugees” Anthology, print

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Riddle Fence (Ca), Issue 34, paid print

“Holthacka’s Quandary” — short story, Lunate Fiction (UK)

“Shade Tree Haven” — short story, (mac)ro(mic) (US)

“My Writing Day” — CNF essay, my (small press) writing day (Ca)

“Our German Relative” — short story, Xmas Stories (Iran)

2020: 11 short stories, 2 CNF essay, 2 interviews, 6 print, 1 paid online, 2 paid print, 5 Canada, 3 UK, 4 US

“The Business of Saving Souls” — short story, Literally Stories (UK)

“The Log Boom” — short story, in “A Fork in the Road,” 2019 Special Theme Edition Anthology of River Poets Journal (US), print

“Encampment” — short story, Tiny Seed Journal (US)

“Regrets de Foie Gras”— short story, Literally Stories (UK), May 2020

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” — short story, Agnes and True (Ca), paid online, Summer 2020

“My Life as a Corkscrew” — a CNF essay “On Writing” in Blank Spaces (Ca), June 2020, print

“Piece of My Heart” — short story, Pulp Literature, (Ca), paid print

“Away Game” — short story, Quail Bell Magazine, (US), paid print

Interview — Maysam Kandej Talks (Iran), https://maysam.id.ir/talks online, August 2020

“My Life as a Corkscrew” — a CNF essay “On Writing” in the Just Voices anthology (Ca), September 2020, print

“The Sunshine Girl” — short story, Cowboy Jamboree Magazine (US), Fall 2020 (John Prine Tribute issue), print and online

“Died Rich” — short story, Fiction on the Web (UK), September 2020

“Baloney, Hot Mustard and Metal Filings” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), September 2020

“Our German Relative” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), December 2020

2021: 7 short stories, 2 interviews, 1 paid print, 4 Canada, 3 UK, 2 US

“Interview with Contributor Mitchell Toews” — Blank Spaces (Ca), January 8 2020

“So Are They All” — short story and interview, Literally Stories (UK), February 14 2021

“Fast and Steep” — short story, CommuterLit “Love Stories,” (Ca), February 14 2021

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” — short story, Literally Stories (UK), March 9 2021

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Fiction on the Web (UK), March 29 2021

“Featured Artist — Mitch Toews” Winnipeg River Arts Council, interview written by Donna Besel (Ca), June 2021

“The Log Boom” — short story, WordCity Monthly (Ca-Intl), July 2021

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” — short story, The Twin Bill (US), July 13 2021

“Sweet Caporal” — short story, Rivanna Review (US), September, paid print, 2021

2022: 2 short stories, 1 paid print, 1 US, 1 Canada

“Hundred Miles an Hour” — short story, Rivanna Review, (US), Date TBA, paid print, 2022

“Piece of My Heart” — short story, Miramichi Flash, (Ca), Spring/Summer, 2022

 CONTESTS-PRIZES-AWARDS

space

The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses is an annual award that has chosen stories for a prestigious anthology for the past 45 consecutive years. Mitchell has three PUSHCART PRIZE nominations (See below for details.)

“So Are They All” — short story, second place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake (Ca) contest, 2016, paid print

“Fall from Grace” — short story, Honourable Mention in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville (US) Memoirs Contest, 2016

“The Phage Match” — short story, finalist in Broken Pencil’s (Ca) annual “Deathmatch contest, 2016, print

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac” — short story, winner in The Hayward Fault LineDoorknobs & Bodypaint Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash contest, 2018 

“I am Otter” — short story, CommuterLit (Ca), Runner-up in for Flash Fiction Feature, 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn” — short story, nominated by Blank Spaces for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2019, print

“Piece of My Heart” — a 750-word or less flash fiction was named “Editors’ Choice” in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest from Pulp Literature Press, paid print

“The Margin of the River” — short story, nominated by Blank Spaces for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2020, print

“Fetch” — short story, one of 11 finalists in a national field of over 800 entries: The Writers’ Union of Canada’s Short Prose Competition for Emerging Writers.

“Fast and Steep” — short story, Summer 2021 Anthology of Short Fiction, Fenechty Publishing (UK), 2021 print and ebook

“Sweet Caporal” has been nominated by Rivanna Review, Charlottesville, Va. for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2021, print

 FUNDING

space

space

sa

Manitoba Arts Council, June 30, 2020. Financial support for the creation of a unique Manitoba artbook, ekphrastic in nature and featuring artistic photography and short fictional stories. The theme is “People, Places, and Light”. Photography by collaborator, Phil Hossack.

 READINGS

  • Voices Launch, McNally Robinson, Winnipg, MB, 2016
  • PULP Literature Issue Launch, Vancouver, BC, 2017
  • Manitoba Writers’ Guild, Artspace, Winnipeg, MB, 2019
  • Prosetry, Jessica Lake, MB, 2019
  • Driedger Readings, Winnipeg, MB, 2019
  • Victoria Writers’ Society, AGM—Open mic, 2020
  • PULP Literature Reading Series, live internet April 24, 2020
  • PULP Literature Issue 27 launch, live internet July 19, 2020
  • Mechanics’ Institute, San Francisco, Cal, COVID-19 open mic, live internet August 19, 2020
  • Just Voices Volume 4 virtual launch, recorded for September 26, 2020
  • PULP Literature Issue28 launch, live internet November 7, 2020
  • Jake Epp Public Library, Steinbach, MB, 2020 (date TBA, pending Covid restrictions)
  • Several readings are recorded here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsA7vS0kVqP5etL2cPnlM4w

 WORK IN PROGRESS

  • “The Barkman Avenue Peace Accords” — a themed, MennoGrit short story collection is being queried. A second collection iteration, “Pinching Zwieback” has also been created for queries and contests. The latter collection comprises a wider range of stories, but is also focused on Mennonite experiences in the wille hundat (the great unknown).
  • “Mulholland and Hardbar” — a novel (“Fargo, with a Mennonite accent”) This 85K-word WIP is out to Beta readers. Not yet querying.
  • “People, Places, Light” — an ekphrastic Manitoba artbook including original photography and short stories (Funded in part by The Manitoba Arts Council | Le conseil des arts du Manitoba.) Just getting back underway after Covid-19 restrictions.
  • About 12 short stories are on the go, being submitted to literary journals, contests, and anthologies.
  • “Tafelburg” — a science fiction novella is written, first draft only.
  • “The Mismaloya”— a proposed novelette screenplay adaptation. Awaiting a collaborator.

FRIENDS & FOLLOWERS

  • Twitter 5,568
  • Facebook 4,331
  • Goodreads 274 friends, 19 followers
  • LinkedIn 803
  • WordPress 209

PANELS

1.15.21 Mitchell Toews participated as an Artist Testifier for the Commission on Basic Income. This Ontario/Canadian (Ontario Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts) jointly sponsored commission requested Mitch to “share your experience and thoughts with our commissioners and to inform their future report on the issue of Basic Income for Artists.”

Basic Income Artists’ Commission

I was approached by an organization tasked to investigate Basic Income in Canada, with special attention to those of us in the Arts. They created a commission and invited artists from around the country to offer opinion and comment on the concept of Basic Income and how, specifically, it might affect the lives of artists.

I was invited to provide an Artist’s Testimonial and here is what I wrote:

I believe that Canada, wealthy and progressive as we are, could become a country that invests in its marginalized people by providing a guaranteed annual income for all citizens. I envision a graduated scale designed to offer a helping hand to get started or a financial safety net to mitigate financial trouble in an individual’s life and also to be there for those with obstacles to their ability as wage earners. 

Why do this? Because life is unscripted and almost everyone, even those in our large “middle class” population needs help from time to time. Furthermore, and maybe of most importance, there is widespread suffering in Canada caused by poverty. By acting proactively, we have an opportunity to reduce suffering and at the same time empower a class of Canadians who may not otherwise achieve their dreams or even, in truth, live the life that most of us take for granted. 

“The Poor” do not want to be “The Poor!” 

A guaranteed basic income would reduce hardship, support upward mobility and drive greater aspiration across all levels of financial reality. 

Plus, guaranteed basic income is in large part simply moving the dollar investment from the end of the cycle — being reactive and giving cash or services to people in desperate circumstances — to the beginning. We should spend to prevent rather than to rescue. Prevention offers a solution earlier in life, when people are in the formative process, especially concerning education and career.

Now, as to artists, specifically: Choosing the path to your dream of a career in the Arts is daunting because of the long, difficult period of education, training, and incubation. This means, with few exceptions, that those who wish to be professional artists — whatever the discipline — must expect and endure a long initial period as low-income earners.

In my personal experience, even with my parents’ financial support available as I finished college, I chose not to pursue a career in the Arts. I decided to take the safer route, financially, and “save” my art for a later date. That later date took a lifetime to arrive and while I have no complaints, I did not devote myself to my love — fiction — until age sixty. Now I am an emerging artist at age sixty-five and while I am extremely pleased with these last five years, I can’t help but wonder… “What if?”

In my case, perhaps the security of a guaranteed basic income would have given me the courage to chase my artistic dreams and not postpone or dismiss them? It’s impossible to say, but I can say for certain that our society is made more vital by the availability of choice. It’s empowering to know that your basic needs will be met even if the career path you are on will take a while to reach fully-supportive status. Furthermore, Arts Councils, armed with the underpinning of guaranteed basic income could focus all of their efforts on the many professional aspects and not worry about the artists’ core financial needs. The guaranteed basic income would take the pressure off the artists and the Arts Councils, for the betterment of both. This is true for all stakeholders in the artistic “value chain” and would breed an environment of possibility and less of a dismal “starving artist” scenario that defeats many artists before they begin.

Piece of My Heart

I had the opportunity to read one of my flash fictions for the virtual launch of Issue 28 of PULP Literature Magazine. The video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIcbCsZCMpk&feature=youtu.be
and my segment is the first one, running from about the 2:00 minute mark to 9:30.

PULP Lit is a special lit mag. It is, like my kids and grandkids, located in B.C. and also like my kids and grandkids and my sis Char and old friends I don’t see much anymore except for Facebook, one of the many — so many — reasons I love to return and visit B.C. (Damn covid!)

Each issue of the magazine is beautiful to see and something to be absorbed, like a tincture. Curation, editing, art (!), lay-out and theme are carefully balanced and interconnected. Evocative, original, soothing, disturbing… an intellectual event. Their online launch is even more sensorial adding video, voice, imagery and the strange magical sense of flying out across the world with ZOOM wings made of a hybrid chitin of memory and syntax and imagination and hope and words spoken low and slow.

Anyway… despite appropriate Mennonite guilt, I love to read my stories and was pleased to be asked to join in. I get nervous — not a little — doing this type of thing. But somehow, reading my own stories is mostly exempt from that stage fright. It’s a part of the art, an extension I suppose, that allows me to relive the creation of it and add my own live expression, ad hoc. Plus I can enjoy the story as if detached and no longer the author but rather the presenter and part of the audience… both, at once.

~~~

I’ve been reading some wonderful academic writers lately who look at art and writing and Mennonite writing or writing that happens to be done by Mennonites, or that happens to be done by Mennonite imposters, cultural Mennonites, secular Mennonites or Mennonite moles that have tunneled — whiskers twitching — under the village walls.

Two notables have surnames that surely have been represented in Southwood School Valentine card mailings, SRSS grad class rolls, on Mennonite church Sunday School classroom doors, and as alumni of colleges where art debate, Inter-Scholastic Christian Fellowship, and curling bonspiels were all of equal importance. Schillinger! Shun! Sweep!

The two are Magdalene Redekop and Grace Kehler.

Their concepts and ideas are beautiful, complex, and written with the kind of codified care saved for those rare Sundays when the Pastor and his wife are scheduled to “drop by for Faspa!”

For me, the reading is trench warfare. That sounds disparaging but it’s not. It is high praise. I find myself pulled violently down so many rabbit-holes and stuck to the flypaper of all the many soaring ideas — two or three per page! — that I end up taking week-end side-trips that turn into year-long sabbaticals.

The confluence that I am labouriously working towards is that of Redekop, Kehler, Tolstoy (et al), Toews and “Piece of My Heart.” As I read for PULP Lit and especially after I finished, I saw for the first time some of the intricate embroidery of literary academia in my story.

“Piece of My Heart” is, in its bare-boned simplicity, an example of art that seeks to be sincere. An expression. A means of communication. A conversation. A dematerialization. Perhaps seasoned with a sad hint of Mennonite melancholia.

And though the story is austere and spare, it is also a tessellation of Mennonite chapter and verse together with many Gem pickling jars that brim with lore and insinuation. Savoury and not forgotten, packed with dill from the garden, is my autoethnographic version, albeit brief, of the Mennonite creation myth, “across the brutish North Atlantic… sod-hut sanctuaries… hymns sung with the fervour of nothing left to lose,” and more.

To use Author Redekop’s phrase, my little story claims to be “history knowing.”

~~~

As you’ll see in the video, after the story, Editor JM Landels asks me about my WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar.” Here’s some WIP blurbage about the book:

Logline 1: “Fargo, with a Mennonite accent.”

Logline 2: “A journey through the four seasons of the boreal: friendship, deceit, loyalty, and violence.”

Blurb: Set in the Manitoba boreal forest, Mulholland and Hardbar is a unique and moving story about an odd pairing of young men, their complex and dangerous relationship, and their need to learn how to face difficulty with courage and the absence of malice.”


Statement of Location: The author and his wife reside in the boreal forest just north of the fiftieth latitude in eastern Manitoba. Their home — like the Penrose cabin in the novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar” — is situated on Métis land: Anishinabe Waki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ

Print Catalogue

As this rabid cannibal of a year winds down, I wonder about my writerly struggle and the artistic return on investment for me as a writer, 2015-2020.

ROI, baby.

Aside from all the “hard work is its own reward,” kind of sentiment, to which I subscribe and to whose driving power I owe one of the best periods of my redheaded life (apart from the baby powder tinged, little league coaching, proud dad/granddad parts), I wondered about how much of an imprint I’ve been given/achieved so far.

What is my gravitas quotient, or lack of same?

Am I #futility or do I stand a chance? There’s no punter (in the UK slang sense) who knows how to handicap me, there’s no Vegas line on my puny literary squirming, like the last water bug of the season making a tiny ripple that no one else notices.

An editor commented recently that I had a unique voice worth publishing. I fought back the urge to argue with her, and in that moment of cessation, found a glimmer. A glimmer not of hope — that sworl of Van Gogh luminant turbulence is still light years away — but a lifeline thrown out to me in the cold, deep water by a compassionate friend.

When I look at my C-V, I see a lot of online acceptances, a lot of out-of-province markets, and several repeat markets. This is telling of the state of the world of fiction, my preferences, my ability, my relative reputation in a world of water bugs, and my inclination to spend the years on the far side of three score with friends and heroes, not the miserable and the banal.

Anyway… I noticed that the attention of the curator for a certain specific geschichte writer list is focused solely on PRINT. I accept that. There’s so much online writing that it makes sense to begin your list with those in print. Not that I’m not proud (and more than a little) of many of my online publications, but, you know — I get it.

So here fellow water bugs, punters, friends, heroes, banal high-horsers out for a romp among the plebs… is my 2015-2020 Print Catalogue, based on about 100 distinct flash fictions and short stories sent out in over 400 submissions all over the English language literary world.

Ca — “A Fisherman’s Story” Rhubarb Magazine Issue 39 2016
Ca — “So Are They All” Voices Vol 16 No.2 2016 Anthology
India — “I am Otter” The Machinery – A Literary Collection 2017
UK — “Nothing to Lose” The Best of Fiction on the Web 1996-2017 2017 Anthology
Ca — “Sweet Caporal at Dawn” Blank Spaces Magazine 2018 Pushcart Prize Nomination
Ca — “Away Game” Pulp Literature Issue 20 2018
Ca — “Sweet Caporal at Dawn” Just Words, Volume 2 2018 Anthology
US — “Groota Pieter” River Poets Journal Special Themed Edition: “The Immigrants” 2018 Anthology
US — “Peacemongers” The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” The Best Short Stories from the MOON Volume 1 2019 Anthology
Australia/US — “Groota Pieter” Pact Press “We Refugees” 2019 Anthology
Ca — “Fast and Steep” Riddle Fence Issue 34 2019
US — “The Log Boom” River Poets Journal Special Themed Edition: “A Fork in the Road” 2020 Anthology
Ca — “My Life as a Corkscrew” (CNF) Blank Spaces Magazine 2020
Ca — Piece of My Heart” Pulp Literature Issue 27 2020 Winner of the Editors’ Choice in the 2020 Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest
US — “Away Game” Quail Bell Magazine 2020
Ca — “My Life as a Corkscrew” (CNF) Just Words Volume 4 2020 Anthology
US — “The Sunshine Girl” Cowboy Jamboree Magazine John Prine Tribute Issue 2020
Ca — “The Margin of the River” Blank Spaces Magazine 2020 Pushcart Prize Nomination

(Updated 12.4.20)

A few of these are printed on a rolling basis and so may not be out in the wild yet.

I also have 65 stories in various online publications in the US, the UK, and Canada.

Gregg Norman — Interview & Novel Excerpts

A writer whom I’ve connected with often on the internet — but not yet in person — is Gregg Norman. He’s an interesting guy and like me, comes to fiction as more of a “second act” but in Gregg’s case he absolutely hit the prose trail running hard and fast, lean and loping.

Gregg and wife Jenine reside in western Manitoba and like Janice and I, they spend a lot of time staring out at open water, or seasonally adjusted, an expanse of snow-covered ice.

I invited him to answer a couple of questions and provide writing from his recent work. Here goes:

MJT — “What has shaped and influenced your writing? Life experiences, places, reading, movies, people?”

Gregg —

I was a bookish type as a child though I grew up in a virtually bookless home. I credit my love of the written word to a wonderful librarian in my hometown and some inspirational English teachers and professors in high school and at university. I read voraciously and eclectically. Beyond all that the biggest influence on me as a writer is my wife, Jenine, who is intimately involved in many aspects of the creation of my novels and who believes in what I do (which puts her at the top of my list of morale supporters).

MJT — “In reading your work, I get a sense of Elmore Leonard’s idea that the ‘writing should disappear.’ Is this intentional or is that just a part of your natural style? Would you care to illustrate with an excerpt?”

Gregg —

Elmore Leonard was a wise man. He said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” I think that is good advice. A writer needs to know when and how to stay out of his own way. The idea is for the writer to be hidden in the background, out of sight. Tell the story, paint the picture, but keep out of it. My style is fairly spartan, I think. I try to resist the urge to write run on or complex sentences or to use too many adjectives.

Excerpt from “A Gift of Scars”

The line of pot-beaters advanced quickly to close the gate. They cast aside their sticks and tin and took up bats and clubs and ax handles. One man carried a knobbed shillelagh, another a golf club, while others wielded hoes or shovels. They entered the pen, spread themselves out among the carpet of rabbits and started killing. The killers were tentative at first, feinting this way and that at the moving mass of animals. Then they swung their weapons with deliberate aim, encouraged by the skulls crushed, backs broken, eyes popped and guts oozing out between legs still kicking. They settled to their work quickly enough, killing methodically and with grim satisfaction.

One man swung a piece of lumber studded through with nails to which the rabbits became impaled, the better to confirm his kills as he flung them away and counted them aloud. Another man was stomping and crushing rabbits with both booted feet while swinging an ax handle in each hand, his arms and legs jerking wildly like the dancing of some mad marionette.

Excerpt from “Oz Destiny”

          Keeping her eyes downcast, she slowly removed her hat and leaned to set it on the ground. Then, with movements slow and easy, she toed off her boots and slipped out of her horsehide jacket and trousers. She wore a man’s undershirt and drawers and she removed these too. She stood naked with her head down, eyes averted. The stallion arched his neck and took a step toward her. By inches she turned away from him, lowered herself to her hands and knees, and bent her head to the ground, presenting herself to him.

          Jesus, Rat rasped, I can’t believe what I’m seeing.

          Neither can I, Oz said in a hoarse whisper.

          I’m not sure I want to see what might happen next.

          Then quit watching.

          I can’t, dammit!

          The stallion came forward haltingly, a few paces at a time, snorting and skittering in sidelong steps. At a distance of ten yards, he lowered his head, sniffed and blew twin clouds of dust below his muzzle. He lifted one front hoof as if he might advance further, but then abruptly whirled and charged off at a gallop to harry his mares into flight away down the valley until they were just dust and the dying sound of hoofbeats.

          While they watched her dress and begin to climb back toward them, Oz and Rat shared an uneasy silence until Rat finally said, She’s completely gone in the head.

          I’m not so sure of that, Oz said thoughtfully.

          All I can say is it’s a helluva way to try to catch a wild horse.

          She wasn’t trying to catch one.

          No?

          She was trying to be one.

~ ~ ~

Follow Gregg Norman Author on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gregg.norman.5015

on WordPress: https://greggnormanauthor.com/

on goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19130607.Gregg_Norman